As Biden projects unity, Senate Democrats see little action

Democrats are seeking to demonstrate unity with President Joe Biden’s visit to the Senate on Thursday, even as leaders are acknowledging that they cannot get much done

Mary Clare Jalonick
Thursday 02 March 2023 18:08 GMT
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Biden Democrats (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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Democrats are seeking to demonstrate unity with President Joe Biden’s visit to the Senate on Thursday, even as leaders are acknowledging that they cannot get much done.

The Democratic-led Senate has been largely immobilized this year as the newly Republican House has shown little appetite for compromise, a string of Senate Democrats have been absent due to health issues and some moderate senators facing reelection next year are voting with Republicans. While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer won a coveted extra seat in the November elections, bringing the margin to 51-49, Democrats have not yet been able to use their majority to advance any of their policy goals.

Schumer has repeatedly focused on Democratic accomplishments in the last Congress, helped by the then-Democratic-led House, in lieu of making promises about the current session.

“If the last two years focused on getting our agenda passed into law, one of the focuses of our lunch will be on how the next two years will be about implementing that agenda,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday morning as he previewed Biden’s visit to their caucus luncheon.

Biden’s remarks to Democrats come as Senate Republicans are finding some success advancing their own policy goals — by forcing votes on Biden administration regulations that they see as overly burdensome. On Wednesday, the Senate voted to roll back a new rule set by the Department of Labor over the way asset managers consider climate change and “environmental, social and governance” factors in investments. Next week, the Senate is expected to pass a separate GOP-backed measure that would overturn changes to the criminal code in the District of Columbia.

Republicans are forcing the simple-majority votes by using the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn certain regulations that have been in place for a short time. And they are winning some bipartisan support. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, both up for reelection next year, voted to overturn the Labor Department rules. The D.C. measure is expected to win even more Democratic support next week.

Those votes are some of the only policy measures that have been considered this year, as Schumer has put a raft of judicial and executive branch nominations up for votes instead of legislation that has little chance of becoming law.

Democrats have had to hold back on some of the more controversial nominations, as well, as members of the caucus have had extended absences. New Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman is gone for several weeks dealing with clinical depression after he suffered a stroke last year. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is in her home state this week dealing with a health issue, according to her office. And Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey returned from a short absence this week after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer.

Schumer said Monday that Biden's visit will be focused on the contrast between Democratic policy priorities and House Republicans — and the dilemma that the House GOP faces as conservatives insist on budget cuts in exchange for raising the country's debt limit, action that must come this year to avoid a default.

“We'll talk to the president about how we can make sure Americans see that contrast,” Schumer said before Biden's visit.

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